Nepali Times Asian Paints
Economic Sense
Developing rituals


Saturday mornings tend to be languid for the Beed. However, last Saturday, 1 December, started out anything but. Driving along usually placid streets, one was hit over the head-repeatedly, I might add-with what appeared to be the capital's overwhelming support for the World Aids Day celebrations. So enthusiastic, or at least widespread, was this fiesta that one might have been forgiven for thinking little else of import was happening in the nation.

Caught in one of the traffic snarls that inevitably accompanies such feverish affirmations of global citizenship, your Beed wondered whether our ritualistic instincts, most intricately evidenced in the announcement of the annual budget, were extending to other "development" activities as well. In fact, last Saturday was a bit of a double whammy in this regard. On that very day, polio drops were also being administered, with volunteers all over to ensure that the Intensive National Immunisation Day was successful.

There is no denying that public awareness and participation are the keys to ensuring better health for the country's multitudes, but perhaps are we taking this matter of participation too far. One wonders whether we have not started celebrating these designated days in a suitably ritualistic manner. That is, celebrating them with great pomp one day of the year, having heated discussion and making extravagant promises, and for the rest of the year letting them go the way of all flesh.

To treat, say, HIV/AIDS as something to be discussed one day of the year, rather like the work of a somewhat insipid poet laureate, do we not forget for the rest of the calendar that a veritable epidemic is raging in the country? Similarly, are we to forget the other epidemics that plague the country? Do we remember that problems relating to water borne diseases kill more people in Nepal than any other disease? There is no development or government ritual associated with this, so are we to be forgiven for our inattention? Do we have to start agitating for a Clean Water for All Day?

Donor agencies love to harp on people's participation as the most reliable form of awareness-raising. Fair enough, as long as this participation is an organic response of the people. But what do we do when we hear one of the numerous stories of people in villages persuaded by multilateral agencies to undertake Food for Work programs? The whole year they build roads or lay water pipes through various participatory programs. All well and good, in theory. But this Beed cannot count the number of times he has heard from people that at the end of the year they realised that they had lost a whole year working for programs they either didn't need or that were simply inefficient. It isn't even that difficult to find villagers who migrated here, or to other towns, to towns to get away from the onslaught of Food for Work programs.

The real problem is not that we have HIV/AIDS days or Food for Work programs. It is that for real development, we need real, continuous participation, rather than these little rituals. In a country where access to health services is limited either because it is expensive, or just not available, we have to consider the issue of preventive health services in a more long-term, holistic manner. We should judge the success or otherwise of people and organisations depending on their performance in terms of actual reduction in the number of HIV/AIDS cases reported, not on how many seminars and other rituals they conducted. The scarce resources of this country need to be used effectively keeping the long term in mind. Otherwise, apart from banner writers and sundry professionals, neither the people nor the economy will benefit.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)